Interest – This is what you are paying to borrow the money for your home. It is calculated based on the interest rate, how much principal is outstanding and the time period during which you are paying it back. At the beginning of the loan repayment period, most of your payment actually is going toward interest, with a small portion going against paying down the principal. Over time this will reverse and more of your payment will go toward reducing the loan balance.
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As you’re comparing quotes, ask whether any of the lenders would allow you to buy discount points, which means you’d prepay interest up front to secure a lower interest rate on your loan. How long you plan to stay in the home and whether you have money on-hand to purchase the points are two key factors in determining whether buying points makes sense. You can use this calculator to decide whether it makes sense to buy points.
Example – A $200,000 five-to-one-year adjustable-rate mortgage for 30 years (360 monthly payments) starts with an annual interest rate of 4% for five years, and then the rate is allowed to change by .25% every year. This ARM has an interest cap of 12%. Payment amount for months one through 60 is $955 each. Payment for 61 through 72 is $980. Payment for 73 through 84 is $1,005. (Taxes, insurance and escrow are additional and not included in these figures.) You can calculate your costs online for an ARM.
Most lenders today will want to know every detail of your financial life. If something looks odd, or doesn’t make sense they will want to have some sort of explanation. This means that you will have to write letter explaining everything. For instance they may want to know why a credit card issuers pulled your credit three months ago when you were trying to apply for store credit, or why you changed jobs a few months ago or why you have moved from job to job over the last couple years. It’s best to write them and explain everything in full detail and move on. They do this simply to verify your financial stability and it is usually something that is requested from time to time.
After you have applied for a home loan, it is important to respond promptly to any requests for additional information from your lender and to return your paperwork as quickly as possible. Waiting too long to respond could cause a delay in closing your loan, which could create a problem with the home you want to buy. Don’t put yourself in a position where you could end up losing your dream home, as well as any deposit you may have put down.
Your first action item is to seek pre-approval from a lender. It's important to note that pre-approval and pre-qualification are two different processes. For pre-approval, the lender will check your credit and other financial information to determine what price home you can afford. (You can use an online mortgage calculator to give you a ballpark figure on how much home you can afford.) This will give you a price range to stay within during your home search and lets buyers know that you’re serious when you make an offer. Getting pre-approval for a standard loan should take a couple of days.
So one thing that makes a mortgage different from other types of loans is that it is backed up by something – in this case, your home. They call this a “collateralized loan.” Credit cards are also loans, but they aren’t backed up by anything. If you fail to make your credit card payments, the credit card companies can’t take your home away from you.
Loan modification: You and your loan servicer agree to permanently change one or more of the terms of the mortgage contract to make your payments more manageable for you. Modifications may include reducing the interest rate, extending the term of the loan, or adding missed payments to the loan balance. A modification also may involve reducing the amount of money you owe on your primary residence by forgiving, or cancelling, a portion of the mortgage debt. Under the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007, the forgiven debt may be excluded from income when calculating the federal taxes you owe, but it still must be reported on your federal tax return. For more information, see www.irs.gov. A loan modification may be necessary if you are facing a long-term reduction in your income or increased payments on an ARM.
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The internet is filled with “discount” mortgage financing options with great rates, but often they are not able to quickly close your mortgage or offer you the level of service you need. On the other end of the spectrum you have the large, national mortgage companies that purport to offer both great service and value but in reality are not able to give you a competitive rate, and the service is not on the level you might receive from a local company.
Interest as a Tax Deduction – If you itemize deductions on your annual tax return, the Internal Revenue Service allows you to deduct home mortgage interest payments. For state returns, however, the deduction varies. Check with a tax professional for specific advice regarding the qualifying rules, particularly in the wake of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. This law doubled the standard deduction and reduced the amount of mortgage interest (on new mortgages) that is deductible.
Looking back at the flood of foreclosures since the housing crash, it’s clear that many borrowers didn't fully understand the terms of the mortgages they signed. According to one study, 35 percent of ARM borrowers did not know if there was a cap on how much their interest rate could rise [source: Pence]. This is why it’s essential to understand the terms of your mortgage, particularly the pitfalls of “nontraditional” loans.
During dynamic economic periods, interest rate volatility can increase and move mortgage rates quickly. As a mortgage shopper or holder, these periods offer both risks and rewards. For example, you wouldn’t want to lock yourself into an interest rate that drops before the home closing, but you’d welcome a rate lock if rates were on the rise. Some mortgage lenders address this problem by offering rate locks that protect you from rising rates but allow you take advantage of a rate drop before closing.
If you are experiencing difficulties making your mortgage payments, you are encouraged to contact your lender or loan servicer directly to inquire about foreclosure prevention options that are available. If you are experiencing difficulty communicating with your mortgage lender or servicer about your need for mortgage relief, there are organizations that can help by contacting lenders and servicers on your behalf.
If you put less than 20% down on your mortgage, you'll probably have to pay private mortgage insurance, or PMI, so be sure to budget for this when shopping. Mortgage insurance rates can vary significantly, depending on your credit, the length of your mortgage, how much your down payment is, and other factors. However, it can add a significant amount to your payment, so be sure to take it into consideration.
A lender offers you a mortgage interest rate based upon a number of factors, but by far the most important is the secondary market for mortgages. Banks typically sell their mortgages to aggregators like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which are government-sponsored enterprises that buy and repackage mortgages. Aggregators issue mortgage-backed bonds to investors in the secondary market. The daily fluctuations of supply and demand affect the interest rates investors require to buy these bonds. As the economy strengthens, investors require a higher interest rate on bonds because of growing competition for their investment dollars. Banks peg their mortgage interest rates to the daily interest rate on mortgage-backed bonds in the secondary market.
Prepare to spend some time sitting back and waiting. Each application is thoroughly reviewed by the grant-making agency, sometimes causing a long lag time between when you submit your application and when you are notified about the decision. In the meantime, don't stop making your mortgage payments, or at least pay as much of them as you are able to, or it may look like you aren't taking your mortgage obligation seriously.
Everyone should make sure their credit score is as high as it possibly can be. If you high credit card balances, pay them below 15% of the credit limit. Dispute negative account information with the credit bureaus. Contact your creditors and negotiate a pay for delete. If you have a friend or family member with a credit card in good standing have them add you as an authorized user.
Home ownership is just not a realistic option for everyone right now, despite what may look like once-in-lifetime mortgage rates. If you fall into this category, don’t despair. Your financial circumstances could change, the economy is still very much in flux, and remember that the current mortgage crisis involved a lot of home buyers getting in over their heads. When it comes to a major purchase like a home, timing is critical.
Oftentimes, rates you see in advertisements online aren’t necessarily for the loans you qualify for. So you’ll need to investigate. Interest rates vary by location and can change daily. And they vary depending on your specific financial picture, such as income, credit score, and debts. A good place to get an idea of what rates are available to you right now is to search for interest rates on Zillow. You can get free quotes anonymously, based on your specific financial picture, so you don’t have to worry about being hassled. You’ll also be able to see mortgage rates from multiple lenders so you can easily compare rates.
Real estate agents are often a terrific resource for getting suggestions regarding a number of home buying issues. They will know which mortgage lenders are trustworthy and who does the best job of completing the process in a timely fashion. After all, they work with lenders on a weekly (even daily) basis. Plus, you can trust there are no hidden agendas because it is against the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act RESPA to receive a commission for referring a client to a mortgage lender.
There are thousands of non-profit housing counseling agencies that are certified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Counselors will work with homeowners to help them prevent a foreclosure or get back on track with paying their mortgage. Most of the services are free for struggling homeowners. Get more details on HUD housing counseling agencies.